Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis, shown in 2006, says work in his riding is his 'bread and butter.' (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press/Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)
Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis, shown in 2006, says work in his riding is his 'bread and butter.' (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press/Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

MPs explain their missed votes Add to ...

A Liberal MP says work in his riding, not Parliament, is his "bread and butter." A former Tory says he was "pissed off" at his own leader, Prime Minister Steven Harper, and stayed away. A former cabinet minister had a baby.

The reasons why some MPs missed votes can be as varied as their politics. And parliamentary veterans caution that voting attendance - taken alone - offers only a partial measure of an MP's performance, since a politician can be just as valuable working in his or her the riding or sitting on a House committee.

More related to this story

"The most important thing for an MP is to represent their constituents and their country and that manifests itself in sixteen different ways," said Dan Boudria, a former Liberal whip and cabinet minister who spent 21 years in the House until he stepped down in 2005.

For example, prominent Liberal party critics - such as Bob Rae who handles foreign policy and Gerard Kennedy who deals with the environment - are away as often as the cabinet ministers they follow.

An assistant who works for Mr. Kennedy pointed out that he has spent much of the past year travelling to key international environment conferences in places like Japan and Mexico. Jim Prentice, the Conservative who held the Environment portfolio for most of that time, missed a similar number of votes.

Some MPs have been sick. Others, such as Irwin Cotler and Denis Coderre, are known for their hard work outside the House on such issues as human rights and Haiti.

Parties sometimes agree to have a member sit out a vote when an MP from another party must be absent for a legitimate reason. The Liberals have occasionally asked their MPs to stay away from a vote to ensure that the Conservative government did not fall on a confidence matter.

The Globe spoke to a selection of MPs who missed more than one out of four votes since 2008:

Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis was the backbencher with the highest missed vote count of 140 absences. He said "family obligations are first and foremost and paramount" and often kept him away from the House of Commons. And his constituents in Scarborough-Agincourt, said Mr. Karygiannis, are his "bread and butter."

"You can be in Ottawa making great big speeches," he said. "That does not change policy, it does not change where you go."

One place Mr. Karygiannis goes is abroad. In 2009, he led the list of MPs who took sponsored trips paid for by foreign governments, business interests and community groups, accepting $35,000 for travel to such places as China, Greece and Kurdistan. Mr. Karygiannis has defended his foreign jaunts as vital to the business community and his ethnically-diverse riding.

"The government that we have right now is not a government that you can really influence to change and do things," he said. "So you have to look after your constituents."

Liberal MP Keith Martin, who came next on the list with 127 missed votes, said voting is very important but there are many reasons why an MP would miss a vote. Sometimes, he said, his constituents from the Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca riding on Vancouver Island did not agree with the way that the Liberals were voting and, rather than voting against the dictates of his conscience or cause embarrassment to his party, he chose not to take part.

There are also many events in the ridings that keep MPs away from Ottawa, said Mr. Martin. "You weigh off what is the most important thing," he said. "Is it more important for you to vote on a particular bill that is going to pass anyway, or do you take the opportunity to participate in something that is of high value that will actually help people?"

Ruby Dhalla, a Liberal MP who missed a significant number of votes, said a voting record is by no means an accurate measure of a Member of Parliament's performance.

"There are numerous responsibilities and obligations," said Ms. Dhalla. "During the 40th Parliamentary Session in particular, some of the absences of my voting related to my work representing Canada at the 2010 Commonwealth Games with Minister Gary Lunn, giving a keynote speech at the United Nations 53rd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women and attending various events in the riding."

Former MP Inky Mark was one of the few Conservatives who missed a significant number of votes. The one-time Manitoba MP who resigned last fall questions why anyone would bother looking at his attendance records now that he has left federal politics. At this point, said Mr. Mark, "it's irrelevant whether I missed one vote or all of them."

But if he was not in the House during votes, he said, it was "because I was pissed off with Harper and I didn't want to stay in Ottawa. That's the reason. Almost right from Day One. You know the way he is. He's a one-man band. He's not a people person."

Mr. Mark said he still worked very hard for the people who elected him. "In 20 years of public life, all I've done is work hard in the riding," he said. "I wouldn't have been returned to Ottawa five times if I didn't do my job at home."

Helena Guergis lived through a politically nightmarish spring that saw her tossed from both cabinet and her Conservative caucus. Then she became an independent MP - and a mother.

But she said she can account for missing over 80 votes. "I am really kind of diligent about being there," she said.

During five of them, she was a cabinet minister and was paired with a member of the opposition after being given permission by the PMO to be elsewhere.

Sixty-two of the votes occurred between April 20 and the end of June, when her career was in turmoil and she was dealing with the first stages of her pregnancy. Ms. Guergis said she has submitted medical notes for each one of those absences to the House of Commons.

She said several of the remaining votes had been incorrectly recorded. And then there was her baby.

"I did make it in the House and I did deliver my statement while I was having a contraction," she said, explaining why she missed five votes on Dec 14. "That was an interesting experience, I can tell you."

She delivered on Dec. 15 - and missed two votes that day with no regrets.

Liberal MP Albina Guarnieri, who missed 95 votes , said there are many reasons why an MP would not be present for a vote. Sometimes, she said, Liberal MPs are asked to abstain to prevent the Conservative government from falling. Sometimes there are several votes in an evening and, if an MP must be elsewhere on that day, they will be listed as missing all of them, she said.

Ms. Guarnieri, who has been a Mississauga-area MP for more than 20 years and served part of that time as a Liberal cabinet minister, does not plan to run in the next election. "I have had one of my productive years going out the door," she said.

Gerard Kennedy, the Liberal environment critic who missed about a one-third of the votes in the most recent Parliament, said two major environmental conferences, one in Japan and on in Mexico, took him away from Ottawa during critical voting periods.

"It looks pretty grim on paper, he admitted, "but it was really just the effect of being away two weeks." He said if not for those two trips, he would have been present for more than 80 per cent of the votes.

Mr. Kennedy was also among the Liberals were who were asked by their party to stay away when votes were cast on the budget last spring - a tactic that ensured the Conservative government did not fall.

And he opposed the Colombia free-trade deal, which the Liberals agreed they would not vote down, so he was absent for several votes on that one issue, he said.

Liberal MP Scott Andrews missed 78 out of 310 votes. Most of them, he said, were related to the budget and he was asked by his party to stay away.

There was also a private-member's bill that was introduced by a fellow Liberal MP that had 15 amendments, each one with its own vote.

"As a group we decided it's our own colleague so let's not embarrass him," Mr. Andrews said. The Liberals who opposed the bill opted not to show up on that day, so each of them was marked absent for 15 votes.

Follow on Twitter: @glorgal

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories